Pacing Through the Pines

Appreciating 2013

Special to The TribuneDecember 24, 2013 

Who needs snow when you have spume? The author is thankful at Christmastime for the ocean's splendid artistry.

JOHN HUFFMAN

Christmas is the season for giving, for receiving, for parties and relatives, for high school basketball tournaments and, of course for another fictional visit from that jolly bearded man in the red suit — who may in fact be Caucasian, African American, Latino, Asian or “other,” depending on your perspective, or on what cable news program you watch.

But on a serious note, for many of us, this Christmas isn’t just about religious ceremonies, overeating, mistletoe or mall shopping. Indeed, it is a time to reflect on the good deeds and blessings — and even for those occasional disagreeable moments that get buried under the weight of time but serve as reminders that we can do better — we experienced in 2013.

For me, a transplanted Midwesterner who is still in awe every moment of every day (48 years after relocating), at Christmas I am sincerely grateful for the wonders — and the good people — I come into contact with in this forested splendor we inhabit.

Fully aware that we only have so much time granted to us — and that old mother mortality is gaining ground on us each year — we truly should step back and appreciate the here and now.

I’m gratified to be able to step outside onto the well-worn wooden deck in the pitch black at shockingly early hours (around 4 a.m.), when most intelligent folks are sound asleep, and hear the restless rumble of the Pacific Ocean.

In my youthful years in Wisconsin I dreamed of one day living close enough to hear the sound of breakers crashing onto the shore. I attended movies with ocean themes. I sat in uncomfortable wooden chairs in libraries poring through books with photos and histories of oceans and people interacting with oceans.

Reading about Thor Heyerdahl’s courageous sojourn across the ocean aboard that papyrus craft was not quite as thrilling for me as a booming Hank Aaron home run 61 miles away at Milwaukee County Stadium — but it was close.

Today, these many years and miles later, that magical thud and whoosh — and occasional thunder — produced by the surging, ceaseless salt water arriving onshore, continues to score points in my cerebral scorecard.

Oh, there are other sounds I cherish and am grateful for at Christmas time. Some early mornings I hear gobbling turkeys or coyotes howling, and I routinely hear the barking of sea lions, their wacky yapping echoing up through a canyon dominated by soaring (albeit invasive) eucalyptus trees.

Nature’s eerier sounds are there too. Great horned owls, tucked mystically in the lofty pines, remind my listening ears vis-à-vis the precious benefits of healthy natural world creatures making residence in our environment.

Tucked seamlessly in those same trees are the dozen or so turkey vultures that are holed up there 360 nights a year (not sure where they go the other four days). Yes, their ubiquitous circling and swaying in Cambria’s skies doesn’t seem particularly exceptional, but imagine if one day they vanished, their 70-inch wingspan and reddish heads just a poignant memory.

Meanwhile, on more than a couple occasions in this newspaper, I have extolled the grandeur of a certain sheltered perch I frequent at Leffingwell Point. Some 90 feet directly above the surf, it is a spot from which Nature’s exquisiteness explodes.

From the haphazard strands of kelp left on the smooth sand below at high tide — and the footprints of beachcombers — to the velvety sets of waves no artist could perfectly portray, to the hazy mast of a fishing boat miles offshore on the misty horizon, it is an extraordinary viewing spot.

Each and every pelican, or seagull, or cormorant, or red-tailed hawk, or turkey vulture that happens by while I enjoy splendor of it all, is worthy of thankfulness at Christmas time.

To the little 5-inch critter scurrying around the dusty perch upon which I rest my bones — to the pod of 50-foot gray whales churning southward a couple hundred yards offshore this time of year — and to those still reading this column as it closes, I offer an earnest ho-ho-ho and merry Christmas!

Freelance journalist and Cambria resident John FitzRandolph’s monthly column is special to The Cambrian. Email him at johnfitz44@yahoo.com.

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